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It took a village

Village Handcrafted Cabinetry started as a one-man shop in 2000 and currently has 47 employees in a 23,000-sq.-ft. facility in Lansdale, Pa.

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The Trave and Marks families run the place. Joseph Trave III is the “one” in that one-man shop started not-so-many years ago and he now has the title of sales director. His wife, Gina, is in charge of marketing and technology. Gary Marks is the director of operations, finance and installation, and his wife Jennifer manages the accounting.

Looking back, Joseph Trave says it’s been a journey of ups and downs, through a rapid expansion, the Great Recession and a near bankruptcy. This year is a definite “up,” with sales about 20 percent ahead of projections.

Taking the plunge

Originally from Lansdale, Joseph Trave grew up learning the ropes of his family’s restaurant business. But, at 25, he switched to woodworking.

“I just had a passion for furniture making,” he says. “I went to a trade school to learn construction, then moved on to furniture making as a hobby for about eight years. At that point, Gina had a job with benefits so it seemed like a good time to try it full-time.”

Travis spent three years working out of his parents’ 400-sq.-ft. garage. He didn’t start “making a living” until he bought Cabinet Vision design software and met Bob Dubre in 2003. Dubre was a cabinetmaker of 30 years looking to sell his business, Village Woodshop, in Quakertown, Pa. Trave bought the shop’s machinery, took over the rent and kept Dubre’s two employees. Dubre became Trave’s mentor, teaching him the in and outs of the kitchen cabinet business for the next five years.

“We changed the name very quickly to Village Handcrafted Cabinetry, trying to get more into architectural woodwork. It was doing $250,000 a year in sales when we took over. By 2006, we reached $700,000.”

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A rollercoaster ride

The shop completes 250 to 300 jobs per year.

Sales really blossomed from 2007 to 2010, shortly after the move to Lansdale.

“We got to about $2.5 million and then faced the [economic] downturn. We didn’t feel it until late 2010 and early 2011. We were humming before then. In 2011, we scaled back slightly from 22 employees down to 15,” Trave says.

It got worse from 2011 into 2013. “We were trying to beat everyone’s price just to get the business. We reduced our margins. We would take any job no matter how large or how small, even if it was out of the norm. We would do a vanity, run trim or make a piece of furniture. Our goal was to remain in operation.”

The partners basically saved the business by refinancing their building in 2012. By 2014, they were back in growth mode, adding 14 employees to double their staff. They’ve added another dozen employees since and Trave says the company is on target to hit $6.5 million this year.

The customer base

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The shop has always focused on the residential market, particularly owners of mid- to high-end homes looking to remodel. A new kitchen, perhaps, or a complete makeover.

The shop has built a strong network of local contractors and designers. It is a member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Trave is president of the Bucks Mont chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

The shop churns through 250 to 300 jobs a year, which range from a single bathroom vanity to a $250,000 millwork package. A recent job covered 10 rooms in a single house.

Lansdale is just north of Philadelphia and about 90 percent of the jobs are based in eastern Pennsylvania. But the territory is expanding.

“We do work for a lot of homes on the New Jersey shore points. A lot of our clients have houses on the shore. We’re also starting to do more work in Boston and even Florida,” Trave says.

The offerings include face-frame and frameless cabinets. “Locally, the preference is generally inset,” Trave explains. “However, when we do more work in the city, like Philadelphia, it’s more frameless, more contemporary urban designs. We’ve seen it more and more over the years and that trend is moving into the suburbs. So we are seeing cleaner lines, lighter finishes, less ornate detail, but it’s still very custom. People still want something their neighbors don’t have.”

Recently, the shop has had several requests for recycled barn wood. One project was featured on the television show “Barn Hunters.”

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The shop also builds private label kitchens for local high-end designers.

More expansion?

Partners Joseph and Gina Trave, and Gary and Jennifer Marks (from left).

Trave says the short-term goal is to increase sales by another 20 percent in 2017. The current shop is nearly maxed out and there have been discussions about moving to a larger 40,000-sq.-ft. space. More automated machinery might also be necessary.

Competition comes mainly from the Amish shops in the area. “At the last Philadelphia Home Show there were at least six Amish companies there. Their pay scales are different than ours, so it’s a downward pressure on pricing, often times,” Trave says.

“Managing customers’ expectations and educating them on our products is always the biggest challenge. They have so much trouble understanding what goes into this that it’s made to order. Clients can come here and walk through the shop. It’s easy to follow up with their needs because we are right here.

“The key to success is customer service,” Trave adds. “A lot of people can supply a nice cabinet when it comes down to it. Building a beautiful kitchen is one thing, but meeting clients’ expectations is entirely different. We put a lot of our effort into making them happy throughout the process and after the job is completed.”

Contact: Village Handcrafted Cabinetry, 200 West 8th St., Lansdale, PA 19446. Tel: 215-393-3040.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue.

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